FORT POLK, La., Nov. 1, 2006 -Imagine traveling thousands of miles to a foreign land where very few speak your language, where the customs, weather, environment and mannerisms are all different. Thankfully, for members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) who came to Fort Polk, La., to train at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), there was a helping hand: interpreters.

While they don't wear the camouflage uniform of the soldiers, Afghan interpreters tend to blend. However, Hassan Wilson, a native Afghan who has been interpreting for two years between American and Afghan forces, said their role is vital.

"What we do is very important," he said.

Without proper translation, Wilson said orders can be misinterpreted, which can cost lives and ruin missions the ANA conducts in Afghanistan with Coalition Forces.

Training for such missions, which the ANA and ANP are doing at JRTC, the U.S. Army's premier training center, would not be as effective without interpreters, Wilson said.

"We help them (other Afghans) understand the concept (of being trained) so they don't make mistakes," he said.

Fellow Afghan interpreter, Imram Mohamad Rasul, agreed.

"The ANA are getting good training here they've never done before, learning new stuff with the U.S. Army," he said. "They like the different training, but can't speak any English, so we (interpreters) try to do our best to help them learn."

Learning as much as possible is vital to success against the Taliban extremists, said Rasul, who has been interpreting for a year.

Just as the ANA and Afghan National Police (ANP) are dedicated to helping their countrymen, so are the interpreters, which is why Wilson said another key part of their job is teaching Americans about the Afghan culture and habits. While American soldiers are teaching the Afghans about weapons, equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures,

interpreters help the Americans learn about Afghan culture and simple phrases in their language.

"We try to teach the American soldiers simple commands, like 'stop,' that can help them out while in Afghanistan," Rasul said.

While they may not carry rifles, explosives or other combat gear, in a war in which winning the support of the Afghan people is as equally important as defeating extremists, interpreters still play a vital role, Wilson said.

By helping their countrymen learn as much as they can while they train at JRTC, Wilson and Rasul said they are also helping the Afghan people at home.

"There is a need for us in Afghanistan ," Wilson said. "So we have to help out here."